1995 Pontiac Firebird • 6 cylinder 2WD Manual • 100,000 miles

My dashboard "parking" brake light is on in my 95 Pontiac Firebird. The one that's on when e-brake is in use. I checked the brakes and they all seem fine with plenty of wear left. I did notice a little more brake pedal travel as this light came on and the brake fluid level dropped slightly. I checked brake pad wear on the fronts and it's good and the shoes on the back drums seem ok too. I added brake fluid to master cylinder but the light is still on. The only performance difference is that there's still more pedal travel (harder to brake) than before even though shoes/pads are fine. Any suggestions?

February 17, 2011.

Chances are there is a leak in one of the lines. Pad and lining wear is not an issue. First of all, watch your parking brake light very closely with the engine not running. If it gets the very tiniest bit brighter when you apply the parking brake, that is not the reason it is on. Next, unplug the fluid level sensor in the master cylinder reservoir. If the light goes out, add more fluid or check if the float has sunk. Finally, unplug the pressure-differential switch in the combination valve. It's near the frame under the master cylinder. If that makes the light go off, the valve is stuck in some corrosion. It's spring-loaded in Chrysler and GM vehicles. A good jab on the brake pedal after the leak is repaired will usually unstick it.

If you have the "newer" master cylinder with four steel lines coming out of it, let me know as there are some important differences, but that system is usually used only on front-wheel-drive cars.


Feb 17, 2011.
And what if the (P)brake light doesn't get even a little bit brighter when I apply the e-brake? Im thinking it has to do with either my ebrake or wiring. I took center console out and disconnected the ebrake switch sensor but it didn't help. Any other connectors I can unplug to see if that makes the brake light go off on the dashboard?THX

Sometimes that trick works to prove the light is NOT on because of the parking brake. When the brightness doesn't change, it's not conclusive. Before you tear into it more, look for an electrical connector on the master cylinder. Unplug that and check if the warning light turned off.

How many steel lines are there on the master cylinder, two or four? If there's only two, look for a valve assembly mounted to the frame below the master cylinder. That will also have a connector that can be unplugged to see if the light goes out.

Mar 1, 2011.
Ok, thanks for quick reply, caradiodoc. I unplugged the electrical connector going into a little computer where the two steel lines end up. That made the (p)(!) Brake light go off on the dashboard and it only lit up when the ebrake was applied. What's next?
P.S. A friend told me it could be my rear shoes/rotors got worn out and that's why the sudden brake fluid drop (which I refilled - to get rid of brake pedal travel).

Brake linings don't wear out that fast unless one cracks off from the metal backing plate. Also, the low fluid level switch is in the reservoir, not down where that plug is located. For the pedal to drop so quickly there is either a leak or there's internal leakage past a seal inside the master cylinder. That would cause unequal pressures in the two hydraulic systems. That's what that switch is for that you unplugged.

Mar 1, 2011.
Just got a free brake inspection along with my oil change at Bucky's and they said it's a brake master cylinder leak. How they can tell for sure - I don't know because when I left my brake dashboard light was off and everything was fine. Do you know if they get that from ABS codes or do they pressure test it or did they hook up a scanner to OBD comp and reset codes to turn off the light? I'm just iffy right now about driving as is or shelling out 450 for a new BMC installed.

That block does look different than a typical combination valve but I couldn't tell if it was something related to anti-lock brakes. Normally if they used a scanner to retrieve fault codes the yellow warning light would have been on previously too. You'd have to ask if they used a pair of pressure gauges at the master cylinder or if they just based their diagnosis on the symptoms. If you see fluid residue by each steel line at the master cylinder, they likely used two gauges, but keep in mind they would have probably washed that off rather than leave a mess behind.

Mar 2, 2011.